The Myth of Multitasking [Slow Down Challenge: Day 3]

Note: This week, I’m writing a series of challenges to help you (and me) slow down and savor the good parts of life. Find out more about it here, and make sure you’re signed up for email updates so you don’t miss a thing.

Distraction. It’s one of the fastest ways to lose our focus and start — uh, what was I saying? Sorry, I had to check my email real quick. Anyway, where was I?

Oh yeah, distraction…

Photo Credit: RLJ Photography NYC via Compfight cc

You and I are called to important work that not just anyone can do. And the biggest obstacle to accomplishing this is a million little distractions that we encounter every day.

Recently, Erik Fisher interviewed me for his podcast, Beyond the To Do List, which focuses on productivity and getting things done. We were talking about my new book, The In-Between, and he asked quite candidly,

What does slowing down have to do with productivity?

Great question. On the surface, it may seem that the two don’t have much in common. But nothing could be further from the truth.

We have this idea that if we accomplish many things, then that equates to better work. Doing one thing at a time feels inefficient, so why not combine them?

We call this “multitasking,” and when it works we feel like we did something right. But what if it never worked? What if multitasking was a myth?

The costs of multitasking

Every time you put your hand to something, you’re communicating (both internally and externally) the priority of that task. You’re saying it’s just as important as whatever else you’re trying to do.

But what happens when you multi-task during family time? Or when you mix chatting with friends with a little bit of work? And how about that bright idea of catching a movie while you should be writing your next book or blog post?

Not good ideas, right? So why do we think we can get away with other forms of multi-tasking? We don’t realize what it’s costing us.

When you try to do more, you accomplish less. When you multitask, you’re not only communicating a priority; you’re diluting your focus. As Confucius once said,

Man who chases two rabbits catches neither.

There is a cost to our constant productivity. When we try to do too many things, we end up doing them poorly.

Staying productive is good. But busyness robs us of the gift right in front of us (tweet that). It distracts us from the most important things in life and often steals our joy.

Don’t let that happen to you. Learn to pay attention to what matters most and find the freedom that comes from focusing.

Challenge: Focus


What if today you stopped trying to fit more things into smaller blocks of time? How much better would your work be if you do fewer things? How much more present could you be to each task, and how much happier would that make you? How much would you grow?

That’s what we’re going to do today. Here’s your assignment:

  1. Pick one task you need to accomplish; write it down.
  2. List all distractions that stand in your way.
  3. Share the list with one person who can hold you accountable.
  4. As you work, glance at your list and remind yourself what really matters.
  5. Turn off your phone and/or silence other pieces of technology, while you do this task. See how much better your can concentrate when you focus.

My task is to type the addresses of 100 people that I spoke to last weekend. They gave me their contact info at an event, and I promised to send them something this week. But I’ve been busy day with appointments, so I keep procrastinating.

Distractions include email and social media that I check in between meetings. Instead of doing that, though, I’m going to remember these people are counting on me and I can’t let them down.

For more about learning to focus, check out my new book, The In-Between, which is a call to pay attention to what’s right in front of us (it’s currently 40% off on Amazon).

What’s your one thing you need to accomplish today? Share in the comments.